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JIGNA CHAUHAN

Royal College of Art Critical Writing in Art and Design

Brit Insurance Design Awards 2011

Hosted by the Design Museum, London, the Brit Insurance Design Awards represent the various strands of design we encounter on a daily basis. The exhibition features the work of well-known names such as Apple, Dyson and Thomas Heatherwick but also those of the less known, for example, 2010 winner, Royal College of Art graduate, Min-Kyu Choi.

Exhibition viewers are guided through an appreciation of designs ongoing presence in our lives. This years submissions hold sensitivity for issues that sit at the forefront of design at the moment, such as, sustainability, durability, longevity, price and value. However, the layout of the exhibition does little justice to the designs. When submitting an entry to the competition, designs are divided into seven strands, Architecture, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Interactive, Product and Transport. This is also how they appear in the exhibition catalogue. However, for the exhibition layout, curator Alex Newson, has decided that the work might be viewed better under different categories, Play, Share, Home, City, Learn and Stop. The simplistic nature of the words, some which could be mistaken for those in a childrens playground, may be an attempt to step away from the labelling of design fields but instead makes the exhibition confusing to navigate around. Each theme has been allocated colour-coded bunting to divide the space and matching graphics that label individual pieces. By introducing an alternative categorisation of the designs, to perhaps make them appear more

JIGNA CHAUHAN
Royal College of Art Critical Writing in Art and Design

relevant to the everyday or interdisciplinary, seems to be an ambitious and even unnecessary arrangement. There is further disharmony, the Stop area is slightly different to the other categories, as it includes items from the other areas that can be played with by the audience, Thomas Heatherwicks Spun Chair for example, is in the Play area and in the Stop area. The Stop area represents the drive in encouraging audience interaction that was also witnessed at the retrospective Ron Arad exhibition held at the Barbican in 2010.

The Design Museum holds several exhibitions throughout the year and is likely to have a working formula that is successful in guiding its audience coherently through an exhibition. It seems that when a working formula is challenged, its suitability can be doubted. Whilst developing this trend of audience involvement, the graphics that accompany pieces in the exhibition, require double takes on the wording; as some would say Please do not touch and others, the opposite. It seems that whilst innovative and experimental ways of displaying the awards are welcome, there is a fine line between it becoming a distraction from the viewing process and displaying the work to the spaces best capability. The space does after all have the large staircase breaking it up. As a visitor, having climbed the stairs to the top of the Design Museum, something more spectacular is expected of one of its most high profile exhibitions of the year.

Since its launch in 2008, the awards have become a major event in the design arenas year. Three years on, an interesting theme has begun to arise, the

JIGNA CHAUHAN
Royal College of Art Critical Writing in Art and Design

revisiting of the old and classical. The reworking and modernising of familiar domestic objects suggests previously considered perfection needs to be rethought for the 21st century. This years winner for example, Plumen, a light bulb designed by Hulger and Samuel Wilkinson, eliminates the need for the light bulb to be hidden behind a lampshade, it lasts 8 times longer than incandescent bulbs and its new fluid appearance makes it suitable for a wide range of contexts. Since first being in invented in 1809, the humble light bulb had become a mundane household object, so familiar, and given little consideration when considering an interior. The designers have transformed the light bulb into something that attracts attention and functions better. And due to this, it has managed to penetrate through to the mass market, being sold in places like John Lewis, whilst still achieving design status in the Design Museum shop.

Last years winner Min-Kyu Chois intelligent response to the unnecessarily bulky plug we have become accustomed to having in the house and travelling with, was a foldable plug. From personal experience of carrying the worlds thinnest laptop, the Mac Book Air, with the worlds largest plug, the British Standard Regulation plug, arose his design brief for this project. And from it arose an object that improves the consumers quality of usability.

Recognisable household brand, Dyson, has been working towards reinventing the old for many years. James Dyson has devoted himself to reconsidering the household objects used in daily routine, and that have almost blended into the

JIGNA CHAUHAN
Royal College of Art Critical Writing in Art and Design

background. Following the huge success of the bag free vacuum cleaner, Dyson has more recently launched fans. The offering of a safer sleeker alternative to the traditional fan still seems to lack the pleasing aesthetic of the 3 blade fans. The Dyson fan designs lean towards sleek lines, bright colours and a typical contemporary metal finish, features that do not suit all contexts. Unlike a vacuum cleaner, this cannot be hidden away.

Also appearing in this years exhibition is an entertaining collaboration between Muji and Lego, titled Bricks and Paper. This project offers an additional tool for interacting with Lego, a hole puncher that allows you to add paper to threedimensional Lego creations. The simple yet thoughtful addition from such a wellestablished brand has reintroduced Lego to the forefront of the toy industry.

The Transport category has also been a part of the revisiting of the old, featuring the Barclays Hire Cycles. The impacts that travelling across the capital has on the environment and traffic flow is experiencing change in London and the cycles have been key to this shift. Although the initial introduction to the scheme, with the issuing of electronic keys and payments is a little confusing, the system has paired the use of technology with a mode of transport successfully and begins to address issues around convenience for its users.

It seems the retrieval of the old, even with the use of bunting to divide them, seems to be recovering a saturated design scene that was beginning to be guilty of

JIGNA CHAUHAN
Royal College of Art Critical Writing in Art and Design

just producing another short-lived object, headed for landfill. Some designs still manage to stand out despite the space being turned into an incoherent display of innovation.

The 2011 Brit Insurance Design Awards are on at the Design Museum, London, until the 7th August 2011